Following a conversation with one of her students, a friend of mine found herself in the school library in search of LGBT fiction. After some extensive searching, she came to an uncomfortable conclusion: between the dog-eared copies of the finest children’s books of the 1990s (I’m looking at you, Jacqueline Wilson) and an abundance of Diary of a Wimpy Kid, there wasn’t any LGBT fiction at all.
Panicking slightly, she approached her librarian and asked whether there were any LGBT books out on loan to students. This was swiftly followed by a check of the system and a confirmation of my friend’s original concern: her school library had no LGBT fiction.
Some amateur sleuthing (asking teachers at different schools) suggests that this problem is more common than you would think. I would guess that the majority of school libraries have either a very limited selection of LGBT texts, or none at all. As a result, even remarkable authors like Rainbow Rowell and David Levithan, leading writers in LGBT fiction, are sadly still unknown to our students.
Perhaps LGBT fiction is absent in school libraries because it is still largely – and unfortunately – absent in many of our stockists and bookshops. School libraries obtain a vast amount of their texts from school library services; these services provide a filtered assortment of books that are considered to be appropriate for school-age children. This assortment, by and large, does not consist of texts from smaller publishers, and this is ultimately where the bulk of LGBT fiction for children and teenagers is most likely to stem from.
Or, if I may play devil’s advocate here, perhaps LGBT fiction is absent from our shelves because there is a still a taboo around the subject, with some adults still reluctant to discuss the issue – there are even still people who believe that children should not be exposed to it.
Personally, being a glass-half-full type of gal, I suspect that LGBT literature has not intentionally been left off the library shelves. Instead, I believe that it may have simply been overshadowed by the copious amounts of incredible children’s and teen fiction that school libraries are blessed enough to be able to choose from. With school budgets already overstretched, who can blame the librarian (or the English department, or whoever is in charge of ordering books) for cherry-picking the bestsellers and celebrated favourites? It isn’t necessarily a bad thing to provide children with the materials that they are passionately keen to read.
But whatever the reason for the absence of LGBT fiction, it is crucial that we are aware of the situation and quickly remedy it. I’m not advocating allotting it its own shelf and covering it in rainbow flags or pink fluffy pom-poms. It doesn’t need to be controversial; it just needs to be present.
And this is not just for LGBT students. We need to provide all of our students with the opportunity to understand and empathise with others. If a student, regardless of their sexuality, wants to know more about LGBT issues, and the school library is significantly lacking in this area, where will they go to look?
Some may be too shy or embarrassed to approach an adult, and, as educators, we should be wary of the information available to them on the internet. A well-chosen library book provides information in a subtle and safe way; we can select those that will be most beneficial to our students.
If we judiciously select LGBT fiction for our school libraries, we can provide our students with inspirational role models and the platform for understanding and accepting their own and other’s sexuality. Yes, budgets are tight. But we owe it to our students.
Laura Tsabet is assistant head of English at Redbridge Community School in Southampton. She tweets @lauratsabet
If you feel inspired to revitalise your school’s library, below is a list of 20 LGBT fictional texts to get you started:
- Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green and David Levithan
- Boy Meets Boy by David Levithan
- Annie on my Mind by Nancy Garden
- Simon vs the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli
- Carry On by Rainbow Rowell
- The Art of Being Normal by Lisa Williamson
- Openly Straight by Bill Konigsberg
- Being Emily by Rachel Gold
- Fan Art by Sarah Tregay
- Adam by Ariel Schrag
- Lies My Girlfriend Told Me by Julie Anne Peters
- Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz
- Hero by Perry Moore
- I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson
- Her Name is James by CJ Heath
- The Miseducation of Cameron Post by Emily M Danforth
- The Difference Between You and Me by Madeleine George
- True Letters From a Fictional Life by Kenneth Logan
- What They Always Tell Us by Martin Wilson
- Becoming Chloe by Catherine Ryan Hyde